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Worsening weather grounds aircraft looking for downed plane

Published December 6, 2013 10:33 pm

Five feared dead • Aircraft went down last Sunday after pilot reported engine trouble.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Approaching storms and worsening weather on Friday grounded aircraft that had been helping searchers on the ground try to find the wreckage of a plane that went down last Sunday in central Idaho's frozen, snow-covered mountains.

While efforts continued on tracked snowcats and snowmobiles to locate the plane and the five aboard, the extent and scale of any weekend search plans were in question due to approaching weekend storms.

"Forecasts call for snowfall throughout the weekend and into next week," said Incident Commander Lt. Dan Smith of the Valley County Sheriff's Office. "Even though we want to locate this plane, the one thing we cannot do is put people in harm's way."

Authorities did ask that any pilot flying in the area keep an eye out for any signs of the missing aircraft, a six-seat, early 1980s model BE-36 Beech Bonanza.

The missing plane, out of San Jose, Calif., was en route to Montana when it went down Sunday afternoon after pilot Dale Smith reported engine trouble.

Also aboard the aircraft were Dale Smith's son Daniel Smith and his wife, Sheree Smith; and daughter Amber Smith and her fiancé, Jonathon Norton, who grew up in Salt Lake City.

Search efforts have focused on the forests, ravines and peaks about 100 miles northeast of Boise, near the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area.

The region, already rugged, remote and hard to access, has endured below-zero overnight temperatures all week. Families of the missing and rescue personnel alike acknowledge that given the passage of time without a trace of the plane or its passengers, and the harsh conditions on the ground, that the mission has likely become one of recovery.

Up to 100 searchers from multiple county, state and military agencies, have been combing the area on tracked snowcats and snowmobiles, and above the ground in helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.

remims@sltrib.com

Twitter: @remims